I simply cannot get enough of Anthony Trollope. Dr Thorne, which I reviewed a few weeks ago, has been closely followed by Framley Parsonage, and now I am reading, or in fact re-reading, Barchester Towers. These are all, of course, novels in Trollope's six-novel set known as The Chronicles of Barsetshire, and I have no intention of stopping till I have read, or re-read, them all.
One of the many many great joys of the novels is that characters you have met elsewhere pop up again, often in quite minor roles. Here, for example, we encounter again Dr Thorne, Frank and Mary Gresham, and Miss Dunstable, all from Dr Thorne, and the Proudies and the Grantleys, who figure in the earlier novels. But then we are introduced to new people too, and here we have a country vicar, Mark Robarts, his wife Fanny and his sister Lucy. Mark's living has been conferred on him by Lady Lufton, whose son Ludovic has been Mark's friend since childhood. In fact Mark has been more or less brought up with Ludovic, although his social standing and financial resources are markedly lower than those of his friend. This is, indeed, an important contributory factor to the troubles that Mark encounters during the course of the novel. Although by no means a bad man -- he is a loving husband, father and brother and seemingly (though we don't see much of this) a perfectly adequate vicar -- Mark has acquired a taste for high living which is to lead him into trouble soon after the novel begins. Not only does he enjoy hunting, and owns several fine horses, but he accepts an invitation to stay at the grand country house of an MP, Nathaniel Sowerby, although he knows that Sowerby is a compulsive gambler and has earlier had some unfortunate and dishonest dealings with Ludovic. The whole thing backfires terribly, as Mark kindheartedly agrees to sign a bill for Sowerby and soon finds himself up to his ears in debt with the bailiffs at the door.
But this is only one of several interwoven strands of the plot. The other primary one concerns Lucy Robarts, Mark's sister. Quiet and shy, but with a sharp intelligence, she draws the attention of Ludovic and soon they fall in love. But Lady Lufton is completely opposed to the match, having much grander ideas about who her son should marry. She cannot imagine Lucy becoming the next Lady Lufton, and does everything she can to prevent it, and Lucy refuses to consider accepting Ludovic unless she is asked to do so by his mother.
Naturally enough all this sorts itself out in the end. But I found these, and the other sub plots, totally absorbing, and was more than delighted to encounter again the wonderful millionairess Martha Dunstable, a plain-spoken, witty, and wholly sincere woman who is constantly being proposed to because of her money. She vows she will never marry until she finds someone who is completely indifferent to it, and that seems to be an impossibility. But happily just the right person does come along in the end...
Although this was the fourth of the Barsetshire novels it was apparently the one which really set Trollope on the road to fame and success. Elizabeth Gaskell wrote of the book that “I wish Trollope would go on writing Framley Parsonage for ever. I don’t see any reason why it should come to and end”, and I can see what she meant. Yes these are ordinary people in ordinary situations, but Trollope writes so wonderfully, so wittily, so satirically, so compassionately, that you just can't help being swept up in the whole story of their ups and downs, their pleasure and their pains.
I'm slightly dreading coming to the end of Barchester series, as I've tried a couple of the Palliser novels and one or two of the standalone ones and not taken to any of them as much as I have to these ones. But maybe something will turn up? Anyway I still have a couple of these still to go.